Do not set foot on the path of the wicked or walk in the way of evildoers. Avoid it, do not travel on it; turn from it and go on your way. For they cannot rest until they do evil; they are robbed of sleep till they make someone stumble. [Proverbs 4:14-16 (NIV)]
Peer pressure—as youngsters we succumbed to it because we wanted friends. When trying to explain why we couldn’t stay out past curfew, go to an unchaperoned party or date while still in junior high, our parents would say something like, “If your friends jumped off a cliff (or ran through traffic), would you do it too?” If you were like me, you relentlessly assured them that all of your friends were doing whatever it was and that all of their parents allowed them to do it. They probably responded with a serious warning about the dangers of peer pressure and dubious friends.
Unfortunately, it’s usually easier to recognize bad friends in hindsight than when they’re right in front of us. A perfect example of an unwise friendship is that between David’s firstborn son and heir to the throne, Amnon, and his cousin Jonadab. Described in various Bible translations as very clever, crafty, shrewd, wise (as in “wiseguy”), or cunning, Jonadab was precisely the kind of friend our parents warned us against—the inciter, the one who always seems to be around trouble but doesn’t get caught. In this case, Amnon had a serious case of lust for his half-sister Tamar. Although sex between them was strictly forbidden, Jonadab provided Amnon with a scheme that would allow him to have his way with the young virgin. Amnon followed the plan and violently raped his sister. When King David did nothing to right this wrong, Tamar’s brother Absalom took revenge and killed the rapist. Like a bad penny, it was Jonadab that turned up at David’s side to tell him the news. It was Amnon’s unwise friendship with Jonadab that started the ball rolling for the downfall of David’s kingdom.
While our friends probably won’t help us plot a rape, they can subtly affect our behavior in a negative way. Remembering some of the conversations I’ve overheard at the gym and around the bridge table, it’s clear that mean girl comments are not limited to junior high and mean girls can turn into mean women. It’s easy to be drawn into their conversations and cattiness and get led astray. Wanting to be one of the group is not limited to teens. Even adults want to feel part of a community of friends. We must be discerning, however, when it comes to choosing those friends. Our spiritual lives require friends whose faith will bring us closer to God, not those who will pull us away. We may be adults, but we can still succumb to the influence of other people and peer pressure. We need to “fool-proof” our lives and pick our associates wisely.